Name and Tame Your “Clutter Magnets”

by Nov 13, 20218 comments

Later is the best friend of clutter. 

Peter Walsh

Find Your Clutter Collection Areas

Where do items in transition land?

As we have seen in 30 Days of Minimalism posts, physical clutter is a problem for many reasons. We know that decluttering has many benefits so we try to manage clutter in our homes and our life with varying degrees of success, often in ebbs and flows. However, no matter how vigilant we are about simplifying and clearing our space, most of us are guilty of one thing when it comes to accumulating clutter, and that is the existence of clutter magnets. What is a clutter magnet? Read on to learn more about what they are and how to control them.

What is a Clutter Magnet?

A clutter magnet is that place in our home where you tend to drop items with the intention of moving them to their proper home. Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that those things do not get moved. Instead, they get forgotten for days or weeks while items accumulate to form a veritable mountain of clutter. These collection points have been named clutter magnets because clutter keeps getting attracted there – and because you are pulled back to deposit items again and again. Chances are, you have more than one of these gathering points in places around your home and office.

Clutter Magnet image with  common clutter magnets:  Kitchen counters, desks, bottom of stairs, entry ways, dining tables, nightstands

Identify Clutter Magnets in Your Home

Identify Your Particular Clutter Magnets
Lots of surfaces in your home are tempting as clutter magnets when you are cleaning, when you return home from errands, or any time you find yourself with an armful of ‘stuff’. Taking some time to identify your particular collection points will make you more aware of what you are doing and will help you to both reduce the stuff you drop there and plan regular clearing of these areas. Figure out where your family members head to drop things when they first come in the door.

One of the worst areas is any open ‘drop zone’ in your main entry. This could be a side table, a bench, an open shelf or even the bottom of the stairs. The last of those is definitely a culprit in our home as we put things that have to go upstairs on the next trip as well as things that we want to remember to take with us when we exit the house for a meeting or errands. To keep that area in control, we have a rule that we don’t go upstairs empty-handed; if there is something waiting to go up, we take it up and put it away and if there is something going somewhere else, we take it if we are going to the car.

Another potential collection point is the dining table and the kitchen table or counter. Actually, any flat surface is a temptation for leaving any item that does not require immediate action. That includes beds, bedside stands, bathroom cabinets, coffee tables and desks. You will also want to consider less visible collection points like junk drawers, basements, garages, guest rooms and containers under the bed. All of these are prime gathering points for items that you don’t have to deal with right away – or can’t make an immediate decision about action or storage.

Manage Your Clutter Magnets

As with any areas of clutter, these focused collection spots can seem overwhelming – but they don’t have to be. Make some plans about organizing items in holding and about how long they will stay and how you will deal with items that overstay the limit. Talk with all members of the household about what works best and any rules or consequences for managing shared areas to ensure that clutter does not accumulate in these problem areas. Then, you can implement a schedule for clearing, using or discarding. Look for opportunities to make managing clutter, including clutter magnets, a shared responsibility. Even young kids can help put things in designated spaces. Labelled or colour coordinated containers can help. It can help to have rules around those tools so they don’t just become a new hidden clutter magnet.

Paper is a big part of the problem for clutter magnets. That includes things like mail, flyers, small deliveries, door cards. library books, receipts, business cards that you picked up at a conference or anything else that you might bring home in your pockets or wallet or backpack. Consider immediately recycling or filing mail as it comes in the door. If multiple members leave their items in the same area, you might want to have separate collection points – like baskets with each person’s name. You might want to determine limits about how much and how long anything can be left in the box – or a day of the week that everything has to be cleared before it is discarded, recycled or donated. Special rules might need to be applied for time-sensitive items requiring action.

Take Action

These are a few ways to identify and manage your clutter magnets. Going throught the process of identifying these potential problem areas can also encourage you to reduce your drop points. Create solutions that are consistent with your lifestyle and preferences. Developing a new habit is easier if it is a pattern that you can maintain

Challenge Questions for Day 13

What are the clutter magnets in your home? Make a list of all the favourite drop zones.  Does the number surprise you?  Why / Why not?

What is one strategy you can use to tame – or eliminate – each of your identified clutter magnet areas?

Declutter Challenge for Day 13

Clutter Magnets

Clear or eliminate one of your identified clutter magnets.  If you are feeling motivated, do more than one.

Banner photo and graphic created by M.E. O’Toole in Canva

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Mary Elizabeth O'Toole

Educator, Artist, Storyteller


  1. Tamara

    Oh man… We are guilty of all of the above.
    We have too much stuff, and quite frankly not enough cabinets, so as a result we should be giving and throwing away things.
    It’s hard, and the husband is not on board. “I will need that one day”, he claims about the most ridiculous things. I have given up. His desk is a battlefield. Mine is organized. All the common areas? Cluttered. Our busy lifestyle and the pandemic are not helping. Once we will have friends around again, we may at least clean up the “public” areas.

    • Mary Elizabeth

      It is a challenge when not everyone is on board. My husband hold on to a lot of stuff too but always says he doesn’t have trouble letting go – the evidence is to the contrary 🙂 We have reached a compromise on SOME of our common areas but not quite in agreement with what constitutes clutter. But having guests coming definitely prompts some deep clearing!

  2. Martha

    I started decluttering January 2020 and I found so many “magnets” that I thought I would never get rid of. I’m still working on some but vow when they magnets are gone, the clutter will stay away.

    • Mary Elizabeth

      These areas are definitely a challenge around our house. We get them cleared and everyone sticks with it for a bit but they gradually sneak back on us again. At least now, I am aware and clear them out again within days, not weeks as it used to be. One of our works in progress for sure.

  3. Kebba Buckley Button

    Mary Elizabeth, thanks for another superb piece. My husband passed weeks ago, and a lot of stuff is leaving the house. I have a clutter magnet in a certain spot, for donations and boxes the donations (of many weird dimensions) will go in. There is so much in motion that I am unworried, but I do look forward to things becoming clean and clear. As I recently had cancer surgery, I am needing to limit lifting. So one friend comes to get books, another to get boxes of files to be shredded, another to get the general donations. People are very kind. I even got someone to come and take 2 huge heavy bags of lawn topsoil, from just outside the living room doors. It’s coming along!

    • Mary Elizabeth

      Kebba, you have had a lot of difficult changes in the past few months. It is good to read that you have friends and lots of support. I am not surprised. People are kind and your attitude of kindness and gratitude is sure to lead to more abundance. Still, a lot to deal with. It sounds like you are making lots of progress on clearing clutter, which I always helps me to feel some measure of control. Take gentle care.

  4. Lily Leung

    My worse magnet is the dining room table because we don’t eat on it. However, at the moment it is fairly clear. Then there is the basement and garage.

    • Mary Elizabeth

      Our dining room table is definitely a magnet too. We’re all working on it but it is a challenge. The basement and the sheds are a bigger project for us too. Longer term goals.

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